More than conquerors

Week 13 (at least) of the State mandated lockdown in South Africa.

I barely remember what things were like before. Life resembles a movie…several spring to mind: ‘1984’, ‘Contagion’.

I’m more worried about what other people might be going through than I am personally, people losing jobs and livelihoods, people hungry, people who’s suffering doesn’t serve a narrative favourable to the politically powerful or politically correct – or both, suffering out of the public consciousness.

There is the promise in Scripture that nothing, however distasteful or painful, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A35+-+39&version=NIV

More than conquerors in a war that’s bigger than us

Having to attend the local traffic department, wait 4 hours in a queue, be processed like meat was my lowest point this week. And yet, Romans 8 reveals that this experience did not separate me from God’s love.

Four and a half hours interacting with a government department, I left feeling like a part of my soul was sucked dry

Four and a half hours interacting with a government department, I left feeling like a part of my soul was sucked dry
I was walking this week, thinking about that part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells the audience to look at how the Father provides for birds, comparing this to the greater care he has for people.


Birds seem to be making a better fist of it than people. Birds don’t put other birds in prison, or cancel them for holding different opinions, or make them stand in queues and tax them, or judge them by their different feathers.

Compositionally and aesthetically pleasing, this created work begs a picture

I was struggling to understand what it is about people that is worth saving. Suffice it to say that the Father views human beings with an incomprehensible grace. And having set his love on us, that love trumps any situation that we can’t understand and that causes us the most profound pain.

Lemon tree growing towards the sun

I don’t feel it, but I know it to be true. There is beauty in the humble back yard, there is His grace every morning. There is family and faith. And a conquering church that keeps on going.

Shoofly pie, or Future glory

For a taste of Pennsylvania – and because baking is fun – my wife made a Shoofly pie for the first time ever.

Pennsylvania’s finest

It was as good as I remember it, with generous dollops of whipped cream. It’s just a pity that we ate it in the midst of what some reckon is the longest continuous lockdown in the world.

 

I’m still ruminating on Paul’s letter to the Romans, the eighth chapter now. Paul’s subject matter is vast and epic. All the way from the first chapter where he describes what the gospel is, that we can’t be right with God except in faith, where he describes the hopeless natural and moral condition of man, to the constant moral battle that is fought in the mind to choose what is right and reject what is wrong.

 

And now from the part where Paul has told us what’s happened, to describing how to practically live now that we know what’s happened. The latter part of Romans gets into more practicalities.

 

Living by the Spirit is as practical as the examination of the subject in theory. The Holy Spirit works in the world and more particularly works in the Christian’s life to transform theology into practice. I can think of no more practical thing He does.

 

He tells us that we are the Father’s children. We are loved, taken care of.

 

We are heirs and co-heirs, with a stupendous inheritance. John Piper lists our inheritance. We:

 

  • Will inherit the earth
  • Know God himself, and will be in his presence and will see his glory
  • Can look forward to new bodies

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/children-heirs-and-fellow-sufferers

 

We are heirs and co-heirs, with a stupendous inheritance. But we have to go through suffering in order to get to the ultimate good stuff.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A18+-+28&version=NIV

 

Like having Shoofly pie to look forward to but you can’t enjoy it yet because you have a tooth-ache, or you’re too full of afternoon tea and can’t have another bite. Or any one of a number of reasons that you can’t enjoy it yet.

 

Paul writes that he considers the sufferings we go through are not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits us. This is one of those times where I think I understand what Paul is saying, but I’m unsure how to get my heart over the line.

 

Its a package deal. Suffering preceding glory.

John Piper explains that “the reason the calamities and conflicts of the world exist is because God subjected the natural world to futility. God put the natural world under a curse, so that the physical horrors of that curse, of that futility, of that corruption, the physical horrors, disease and death, would become a vivid picture — parable — of the horrors of moral evil, sin. In other words, natural evil exists in the world as a signpost, a parable of the horrors of moral evil.”

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-pain-of-the-world-and-the-purposes-of-god

 

So, to get to the Shoofly pie, I have to first eat a big old mud pie with gristle and twigs. The stomach heaves.

 

So, I can’t get my heart over the line, and my stomach is green and tender and won’t come with. All I’ve got is a package deal and a mind that vacillates. And the imperative that I can’t just lie down, but have to put one more foot forward today.

 

And another one tomorrow.

 

And another foot the next. Such is the nature of faith and because we follow him.

Living in the Spirit

No matter how weary I become, how empty the tank, the dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit is apparent.

 

None more so than during an extended, mandated lockdown.

 

Citizen Sean has a tank where freedom, rights and civic duties slosh around, and at the moment is in danger of bottoming out.

 

Physical Sean has a tank for fitness levels and general effervescence and that level is trending in the wrong direction.

 

Sean’s brain has endured an intellectual devolution, snacking on mind junk-food and being exposed to propaganda and copious amounts of fear-mongering from the mainstream media.

 

Levels are low across the board. But not my flesh, the sinful nature that snipes from a place of spite and rebellion. Nope, levels are still high there. Memes and mockery are swirling in a creative storm.

 

No matter how weary I become, I notice that my flesh (sinful nature) is self-fueling and in inexhaustible supply.

 

I’m still in Romans chapter 8: Paul has explained how we’re no longer living the old way of flesh and condemnation, but in the Spirit.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A+1+-+4&version=NIV

 

There is a dichotomy between the flesh and the Spirit and my mind is where the tension is resolved. Paul uses the previous chapter of Romans to paint a picture of the tension.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A+5+-+11&version=NIV

 

This Sunday just past was Pentecost. It’s not merely a stop on the calendar between Easter and Christmas. Without the Holy Spirit falling on the disciples in the upper room, would there be a church? Not one full of power. How would any of us be able to spread the gospel without the Holy Spirit?

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+1%3A8&version=NIV

 

This is central to what Paul is saying in this part of Romans. We cannot live the Christian life in the flesh, which is to say in our natural abilities. The Holy Spirit is central to the Christian life. Without living in the Spirit, we’d be no better than self-righteous and sin-destined Pharisees.

Sounds simple. So, how exactly do you tell the flesh where to get off? The flesh is sneakier than a criminal springing a surprise attack with a knife fight in a dark alley. Paul writes: “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…” (8:13, NIV)

 

The Holy Spirit doesn’t get into knife fights. The commentary I consulted seems to be dove-tail with my experience that He works by consistent, daily subtle influence in our lives.

 

https://www.cru.org/us/en/blog/spiritual-growth/beginning-with-god/walking-in-the-spirit.html#.XtJGMJLf5Ms.email

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-and-how-we-walk-according-to-the-spirit

 

Living in the Spirit requires us making time and space for the Holy Spirit to work in us…

 

  • Coming back to the foot of the cross
  • Confessing our sins
  • Engaging in prayer
  • Renewing our mind
  • Praising
  • Seeking to be filled with the Spirit…

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+5%3A18+-+20&version=NIV

 

In a later verse Paul reminds us that those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God (8:14, NIV).

 

As children, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and he leads us. The Holy Spirit doesn’t manipulate, or coerce, or push, He leads. Since we are connected so fundamentally to God by His Spirit, and are made aware by the Spirit that we are His children, it is natural (or should I say supernatural) for Him to lead us.

 

I can’t conceive of a time when He is not leading us.

 

My experience is that when the flesh (sinful nature) knifes me in the back, my inner ear starts resonating with what He is saying, reminding me of my sonship, calling me back.

 

I can’t do it. I really can’t.

 

But He can.